Lieback’s Lounge Motorcycle Commentary
Sitting on the side of rainy hillbilly country in Northeast Pennsylvania, the V-Strom parked near acres of perfectly planted corn, I was saying to myself “All that BS that it’s about the journey and not the destination is a total crock. I should be catching up with my ADV friends over cold beer and wine, and getting some sleep for the first day’s adventure ride.”
My “El Mule,” a 2002 Suzuki V-Strom DL1000 with over 60K, was leaking clutch fluid from the slave cylinder. Like the four rear rims I replaced due to running below 25 psi for gnarly off-road sections and traction from the TKC 50s, El Mule was also on its fourth slave cylinder.
The hydraulic system doesn’t respond well to constantly running in the friction zone, and I never got around to upgrading El Mule with a mechanical clutch unit from a DL650.
I planned to leave for Touratech Rally East in Pennsylvania’s Amish country nearly 10 hours before the clutch issue. But there was work to be completed, and I’m a stickler on sticking to my time management scheduling. The situation was real; I was 10-hours behind, and about 30 miles from home on some desolate country roads just outside Bloomsburg, the clutch problem begins.
So close, and knowing I had another slave cylinder at the house I had just rebuilt (should have packed it!), I returned to my garage, and did a quick fix. OK–on the road again. This time I traveled super-slab Interstate 80 to make up some time; nothing quite thrills like 90mph on knobbies–especially when it’s a bit wet.
I’m all smiles, but then the second issue arrives–my bike begins sputtering while ascending hills, the smell reminiscent of the ’66 Mustang Fastback I owned in my teens that always ran rich.
I pull over, and check everything, knowing I had just synced my throttle bodies and changed the plugs. Bad gas? Likely, considering I was forced to fill up at some desolate station a few days earlier that didn’t even have high test.
I sputter to the nearest gas station and realize there’s yet another issue–my wallet was home. OK. This is getting bad considering it’s nearly 6 p.m. I’m not so much worried about being there late, it’s the point that I have to set up camp by headlight. I call the wife; the wallet is on the kitchen counter top. Well that was a relief. We pick a halfway point on I-80, and she meets me. The bike suddenly quits stuttering, and my notion of bad gas from the hick town station I used a few days earlier was correct.
After a quick bite to eat at a truck-stop Subway with savior (yet once again!) Pam and son Enzo, I was on the road. This time 90 went to an average of 100 mph, and I made it to the entrance of camp a few minutes after 10 p.m.–when Touratech closes the gates.
The Touratech boys are used to me being somewhat late–always–so this was not an issue. Next thing was to set up camp with the headlights on, change, and finally have some vino. I had brought a good bottle of Sangiovese I made back in 2014, and was actually happy most of the other 100+ participants were dozing off; I needed this bottle all to myself.
All the craziness had settled down by my second tincup full of wine, camp was set, and I was snuggled in my sleeping bag by midnight, ready to lead Trek 5–a fun advanced ride–in the morning hours.
When I told my story the next day amid some ghostly fog, nearly all riders told me they would have gave up after the sputtering/forgotten wallet incident. Some see that as a negative sign, but me, a totally positive sign. Anything is fixable–especially when a wallet is near. And breaking down in the back country brings with it loads of memories, so I was prepared for whatever.
But all this lead to something even cooler; when Touratech-USA CEO Paul Guillien heard about my bike problems, he offered me the latest Touratech-prepped BMW R 1200 GS, which had a $4,000 suspension setup and enough protection to keep me safe while riding some endless sections of super-sharp rocks near Poe Paddy State Park.
He knew I was leading an advanced group of eight riders, and equally knew I’d love the R 1200 GS, which–just a few steps behind the KTM 1190–is by far the easiest for me to ride aggressively off road. Plus, I had the stock plastic skid plate on my Strom (I destroyed the aftermarket one), and I’m sure I would have busted my engine or exhaust while floating over that sharp rock section at sometimes 70 mph.
The best part of that day? My group didn’t have one crash or breakdown. I reiterated over and over for everyone to run their own pace, even if a few of us up front had to wait 25 minutes.
Everyone listened, and that night at camp the stories flowed as quick as the beverages. Plus, a few of us saw Baja 1000 Champion and Dakar finisher Jimmy Lewis balance a KTM 1190 Adventure with no hands, then keep it balanced with a single finger.
I didn’t ride my V-Strom until I trekked home that weekend, but it started up quickly, and didn’t present one issue on the ride home. It felt like an ill-handling tank compared to that R 1200 GS, but El Mule just won’t die.
Plus, it brings me memories like this one, where a day of breakdowns lead to a happy day of beating an R 1200 GS and safety leading other ADV enthusiasts to endless smiles and their own memories memories of adventure riding. Wonder what next year will bring…